Choosing a mechanism to encourage landholders to change their land management in order to deliver environmental outcomes is a complicated process. Careful instrument selection may count for little if uptake and adoption are insufficient to meet performance targets. Similarly, investors may require assurance that the proposed investment will deliver the stated goals. In order to reduce the uptake uncertainty facing policy makers we evaluate and describe several possible methods to guide and frame adoption targets. We conclude that referring to past adoption experience of a wide range of mechanisms offers the best approach to setting feasible adoption targets for future mechanisms. We call this adoption points of reference. This approach is tested by application to mechanisms focusing on delivering water quality improvements in GBR catchments. We conclude that the points of reference approach is appropriate and useful but should be supported by processes designed to incorporate the impact of heterogeneity and local knowledge and an emphasis on improving the accuracy of future data.